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Light Green

How to keep Irish grub from killing you on St. Paddy’s Day.

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On Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll all be turning a little green. Hopefully, it won’t be because we’ve celebrated to excess a holiday that’s become synonymous with excess. One of the hazards of overindulging in everything Irish on St. Paddy’s is that, let’s face it, the traditional Irish diet is not exactly South Beach. In fact, Ireland has one of the highest rates of heart disease on the planet, due at least in part to a large emphasis on meat and butter. The traditional Irish breakfast (pork sausages, bacon rashers, eggs, black or white pudding, etc.) along with classics like boxty (a potato pancake made with large amounts of butter, milk, brown sugar, salt, flour and more butter) are a fat and cholesterol manager’s nightmare.

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But so what? Most of us only eat this stuff once a year on St. Patrick’s Day, so what’s the harm? I certainly won’t stand in the way of your corned beef or Irish bread pudding'or my own'on St. Paddy’s. The problem is this: I really like this stuff. Not as much, perhaps, as Tuscan or Provençal fare, but I like it. And I like it more than just once a year. So, over time, I’ve collected a few semi-traditional Irish recipes, ones that trim much of the fat from an Irish menu without trimming the flavor. This “light green” fare allows me to indulge in Irish cooking more than just one day a year in March.

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I’ve been using a variation on an old Frugal Gourmet recipe for corned beef and cabbage for years. To begin, select a 3- to 4-pound fresh beef brisket. The flat cut has less fat than the point, so opt for that. Get a big ol’ casserole or Dutch oven and put in the brisket (in one piece), two bay leaves, 10 black peppercorns, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons salt, two bottles/cans of Guinness, three sliced garlic cloves, two cups sliced leeks (white parts only), a sliced yellow onion and enough water to cover the whole shebang. Cover the pot and simmer the stew very gently for 3 1/2 hours or more (about an hour per pound of brisket). In the last half hour of cooking, add 3/4 pounds of carrots cut into chunks and 3/4 pounds of small red potatoes. Then, in the final 15 minutes of cooking add 2 lbs. of cabbage, cut into wedges and secure with toothpicks. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve when the potatoes and veggies are cooked to your liking (I like my cabbage softer than most) but trim any excess fat from the brisket before you do.

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Colcannon is one of those starchy Irish side dishes that can be made without tons of fat, like this: Boil six potatoes, mash them and set them aside. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, place 3 cups of finely shredded cabbage (my inexpensive V-slicer works great for this), a finely chopped onion and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a quick boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about eight minutes. Next, add the mashed spuds, 1/4 cup low-fat milk, 1/4 cup light margarine or butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, stirring until the colcannon is heated through and serve. Adding some chopped beef turns this dish into the Irish classic Bubble & Squeak.

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Cooking Light magazine provided me with the basics for a tasty, low-fat alternative to classic Irish soda bread. To make this brown soda bread, combine the following in a large bowl: 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Next, cut in 2 tablespoons chilled butter diced into small pieces into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a couple of knives until you have a course meal. Make a well in the center of the flour and add 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk. Stir just until the mixture is moist. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough briefly and then pat the dough into an 8-inch circle (more or less) on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. With a sharp knife, score an X into the dough 1/4 inch deep. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the brown soda bread on a wire rack, cut into 12 wedges, and serve with corned beef and cabbage or another hearty stew.

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Pig’s feet decidedly are not a normal part of a low-fat diet. But hey, we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, right? And since we’ve been good so far, what could one little piggy foot hurt? In Ireland, crubeens (braised pig’s feet) are a typical late-night snack after a night out at the pub. Due to the cooking time, you’ll obviously want to prepare your crubeens before you leave for the pub. In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, combine four to six pig’s trotters (from the hind legs), an onion stuck with cloves, one bay leaf, one carrot, a dozen peppercorns, salt, one bunch of parsley, and a sprig of fresh thyme. Add water to just cover all. Gently bring the contents to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for three hours or more. Crubeens are eaten hot, cold or at room temperature with soda bread; no need for utensils. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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